Finding Community Champions

You are not alone in your support for community water fluoridation! There are many people in your community who understand its benefits and effectiveness – more than you think. They are your Community Champions and they will help you preserve and promote water fluoridation. You need them. Find them. Engage them.

Three Tips to Success

Find at least three allies to start building your Community Champions!
Reach out to parents of young children.
Keep your Community Champions engaged – it takes time to implement community water fluoridation.

Finding your Community Champions

  • Find at least 3 allies. Start with dentists, dental hygienists, and pediatricians. They are likely Community Champions who can speak to the enormous health benefits of water fluoridation. If you live in a non-fluoridated community, they see kids and adults everyday with tooth pain – much of it severe. Download a worksheet for identifying Community Champions.
  • Use your networks and connections. Think about key leaders in your community and reach out to them for support. Include coaches, school nurses, directors of social/human service organizations, and faith leaders. They don’t have to be experts in oral health or community water fluoridation. They do need to be respected, trusted, and willing to advocate with their social and professional networks. Everyone has a story to tell.
  • Reach out to parents. Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease of early childhood and community water fluoridation plays an important role in preventing it. You probably have friends, neighbors, or co-workers who are parents of young children. Their voices are powerful and influential. They can rally support among other parents and decision-makers.

What your Community Champions need to know

The benefits of community water fluoridation

Use your message and talking points to start the conversation. Focus on your community values. Remember to simply and clearly state the facts about water fluoridation and “wrap them” in your talking points. Taking care of family and community and providing optimal health for everyone – these are examples of values that everyone in your community may hold dear and help you build support for water fluoridation.

Your community’s oral health status

It’s important to know the oral health status of your community. Your local and state health departments should have this information, sometimes broken down demographically (e.g. by age, gender, race/ethnicity, insurance status, which is a good proxy for socio-economic status). Doctors, dentists, and dental hygienists can also fill in the gaps with personal stories from the front line about the health of their patients, including the oral health. Stories are very powerful ways to bring data to life.

Who decides

Make sure your Community Champions know who makes the decision regarding water fluoridation in your community. Boards of health, local government, and water operators all play key roles in community water fluoridation. The more you and your Community Champions know about how the decision on water fluoridation is made, the better. Check out the Talking to Policymakers section.

Get together and strategize

Once you have a core group of Community Champions, host a meeting (at someone’s home or local restaurant) to discuss the strategy for moving water fluoridation forward. Important topics to cover include:

At this meeting, you can provide your Community Champions with a detailed “starter” packet that includes:

  • Roles and responsibilities of the Community Champions. It’s important that your Community Champions “own” this effort and have a strong voice in how to move forward. Not only will they be more invested in the work, but you can’t move community water fluoridation forward without them! They also want to know what is expected of them. Their commitment and roles can vary depending on their availability or comfort level with the fluoridation discussion. Find out a number of ways that Community Champions can be involved, from writing letters to the editor, building more support from their friends and colleagues, to speaking with policymakers.
  • Fact sheets. The basic fact sheets (Fluoride 101, Myths and Facts, Fluoride and the Environment, and How Fluoride Works) will help your Community Champions become more familiar and comfortable with water fluoridation, as well as with common arguments used by the opposition and how to respond. In turn, your Community Champions can give these fact sheets to others they meet and talk with about water fluoridation. (More facts about fluoridation can be found at ILikeMyTeeth.org)
  • Talking points to use in their discussions with friends, colleagues, neighbors, and others. Download basic talking points.
  • Sample letters to the editor. One of the easiest and most impactful ways for your Community Champions to support water fluoridation is for them to write a letter to the editor of your local paper – when the time is right! They can either write it on their own or you can provide a letter for them to sign.
  • Timelines can be easy to develop if there is a meeting or event that is driving your efforts, such as a city/town council, board of select, or board of health meeting. Even without such an event, a timeline can help you keep track of all the work you need to do to implement or preserve water fluoridation, such as attending community events, scheduling meetings with key decision-makers, and conducting media outreach.

It’s important that your Community Champions feel comfortable talking about community water fluoridation with a range of people. Suggest that they practice, maybe role play. When they feel ready, they can start talking to:

  • Neighbors, colleagues, and friends
  • Policymakers and other opinion leaders
  • The media

Keeping your Community Champions engaged

Once you have your Community Champions, keeping them engaged can be difficult since implementing water fluoridation can take time. Without the sense of urgency that a rollback can bring, it can be very hard to keep everyone motivated and involved.

You don’t need a lot of Community Champions. In fact, one dedicated, persevering Community Champion can go far!

There is no magic bullet to keeping your Community Champions engaged, but here are some tips:

Build ownership. This cannot be stressed enough! The more your Community Champions own community water fluoridation from the beginning, the more engaged they are likely to be. Make sure they help define their role and have a strong say in how the campaign moves forward.

Create a sense of urgency. One of the greatest challenges to implementing water fluoridation is a seeming lack of urgency. Unlike a rollback attempt, there is typically not a date certain and set for water fluoridation to be implemented.

You need to create a sense of urgency. Each step in the process can be viewed as urgent in getting to your goal:

  • Participate in as many pre-existing events as possible (e.g. parades, health fairs)
  • Work with your local newspaper to write a positive editorial
  • Follow up with a stream of letters to the editor
  • Meet each policymaker one on one
  • Create a plan of action to speak in front of your local city/town council

Establish a timeline of these milestones to keep Community Champions on track and to demonstrate a continued sense of purpose and progress.

Revisit roles and responsibilities.  If you are having a tough time keeping the momentum going, it may be worth discussing roles and responsibilities with your Community Champions. Make sure they fully understand what they need to do to keep community water fluoridation moving forward and that they don’t feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities.